New Food Allergy Treatment Could Offer Hope to Sufferers

July 20, 2012 5:56 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
A diagram of how an allergy works. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

We know little more today about what causes allergies than we did a decade ago, when doctors, nutritionists, and scientists started to note that the number of those diagnoses with mild-to-severe allergies was on a meteoric rise. Since then, parents of children with deadly allergies have been patiently awaiting an effective treatment to potentially life-threatening reactions to, say, the odd peanut that can sneak its way into your food.

Through a new food allergy treatment technique called immunotherapy, researchers and allergists are helping these children develop a tolerance for foods that would otherwise be harmful to their systems. The idea behind the system sounds simple enough: give an allergic child extremely small doses of the allergen and then, over time, start increasing the dose you give them, noting the results as the patient soldiers through the process.

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After a year of treatment, the technique started to yield some success. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that some of the children with an egg allergy started to show diminished symptoms after a year. Unfortunately and mysteriously, more than half of the children involved in the study showed no signs of immunity. Doctors remain baffled.

"It really does give us great hope that there can be a treatment developed in the future," remarked Dr. Wesley Burks, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at UNC School of Medicine.

Fortunately, for the nigh-6% of children in the United States who have food allergy, this hope comes with increased returns each year. And though it will be another five to ten years before this treatment becomes available on a larger scale, experts like Ruslan Medzhitov, a Professor of Immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine, are hailing this treatment and study a "very important investment."

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